Although it would be nice to think that being pregnant and unmarried would no longer have a stigma in the 21st century, some social prejudices die hard. The truth is, fewer and fewer couples are getting married because of pregnancy.—while in the 1970s almost 30% of unplanned pregnancies would result in marriage, today only around 7% of them do. Now, unmarried couples are far more likely to move in together due to pregnancy than to walk down the aisle. But it still happens and, perhaps more importantly than that, there’s still a lot of pressure for it to happen. Is it the right choice?
Well, that’s completely down to the couple in those circumstances. For some, maybe marriage was in the cards soon anyway and pregnancy just sped up the timeline a little. For others, ill-fated marriages just add to the stress of being new parents. Hearing real women talk about how pregnancy influenced their decision to get married makes it clear just how much of the decision is influenced by outside pressure—sometimes to the detriment of her budding family.
The Modern Shotgun Wedding
“It hasn't turned out well, unfortunately,” says Marian, 38. “But it seemed like the right thing to do. We really believed it.” She and her partner decided to get married when they found out she was pregnant. Just a few years later, she now has an adorable toddler—and a divorce. Though she ended up with a son who she loves dearly, it’s been a difficult road. Any kind of relationship breakdown, especially divorce, is incredibly stressful, but imagine adding that stress to having a young child, dealing with sleepless nights and other trials of being a new mom. Not to mention realizing very quickly that the marriage has been a mistake. It’s a huge toll—emotionally, physically, and even financially. And though it’s easy to say, “Well, at least she got a child she adores out of it,” the point is, she could have had that child anyway, without the stress of a failed marriage. But it’s easy to see why people do it. It’s not unusual to feel emotional and romantic when realize you’re pregnant—you know that the pregnancy basically bonds you to the other person for life anyway, and some people even take it as a sign that they should get married.
Resisting the Pressure
But while there are many personal reasons people choose marriage when they’re pregnant, it’s important to remember how much societal pressure feeds into this. When an unmarried couple gets pregnant, people start to ask questions about marriage, and often their judgement is clear. “I think that people are much more accepting of unmarried parents now then they were before, but I still fielded enough questions about when we would ‘legitimize’ my daughter that it forced me to really think about why getting married was a really bad decision for us at that time,” Theresa Edwards writes in Mommyish. She decided not to get married just because she was pregnant, due to a variety of reasons, and stands by that choice. Interestingly, she said that her partner, the baby’s father, bore most of the criticism for not getting married, bringing to light the still-pervasive idea of "manning up" and "making an honest woman out of her." These ideas paint women—especially pregnant women—as totally dependent and incapable, but they also take all of the joy out of marriage, describing it as a chore or a duty rather than a choice. I don’t know anyone who would want it to look like they’re marrying them begrudgingly, out of a sense of obligation.
Happily Ever After
Theresa, who got pregnant at 18 and decided to get married, had a very different story. She and her partner Cris got married because both felt it was the right thing to do. “We discussed it and I was just glad he felt that way because a lot of guys in those situations will go in the other direction and don't want to take on the responsibility,” she told Cosmopolitan. “He didn't look at it like that, so I was definitely glad that he wanted to go that route. ‘Relieved’ would be the good word.“ Over two decades later, they’re still going strong. Sure, they may have only gotten married at that time because of the pregnancy, but between having a baby together and being married, they felt more committed to one another, more ready to work through difficult patches rather than walk away. So for them, marriage may have been part of the glue that held them together—even if was spurred on by a pregnancy.